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The Devil’s Needle & Other Tales of Vice and Redemption (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 10, 2012 by  



For silent film fans, “The Devil’s Needle & Other Tales of Vice and Redemption” is a unique Blu-ray release that revolves around social issues such as drug addiction, prostitution or terrible corporate practices of the 1910’s.   If you are a silent film fan, this is a fantastic, must see, must own Blu-ray release and I was completely surprised to see these films being released together, let alone in HD on Blu-ray!  “The Devil’s Needle & Other Tales of Vice and Redemption” is highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2012 Kino Lorber, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Devil’s Needle & Other Tales of Vice and Redemption

YEAR OF RELEASE: The Devil’s Needle (1916), The Inside of the White Slave Traffic (1913) and Children of Eve (1915)

DURATION: The Devil’s Needle (66 Minutes), The Inside of the White Slave Traffic (28 Minutes) and Children of Eve (73 Minutes)

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:33:1), Black and White

COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber

RATED: Not Rated

Release Date: July10, 2012

The Devil’s Needle

Directed by hester Withey

Written by Roy Somerville

Chester Withey

The Inside of the White Slave Traffic

Directed by Frank Beal

Story by Frank Beal, Samuel H. London

Produced by Samuel H. London

Children of Eve

Directed by John H. Collins

Screenplay and Story by John H. Collins

Cinematography by John Arnold, Ned Van Buren

Starring:

The Devil’s Needle

Tully Marshall as David White

Norma Talmadge as Renee

Marguerite Marsh as Wynn Mortimer

F.A. Turner as William Mortimer

Howard Gaye as Hugh Gordon

John E. Brennan as Fritz

Paul Le Blanc as Buck

The Inside of the White Slave Traffic

Ninita Bristow as Immigrant

Edwin Carewe as Procurer

Virginia Mann as Victim

Jean Thomas as Procurer’s Sweetheart

Children of Eve

Viola Dana as Fifty-Fity Mamie

Robert Conness as Henry Clay Madison

Tom Blake as Bennie the Typ

Nellie Grant as Flossy Wilson

Robert Walker as Bert Madison

William Wadsworth as Peddler

James Harris as Mill Foreman

Hubert Dawley as Bobbie Roche

Director Alberto Cavalcanti (When the Day Went Well?) turns his sights on the London underworld in the engrossing Brit-Noir gangland drama THEY MADE ME A FUGITIVE.

Set in unsettled post-WWII England where crime is on the upsurge, FUGITIVE is a suspenseful thriller which uses the picturesque Soho district to brilliant effect. The London pubs, alleys, and back bedrooms are transformed into brooding images of poetic urban realism. Trevor Howard (Brief Encounter, The Third Man) gives one of his greatest performances as Clem, an ex-serviceman who is fed up after the war and drawn to the excitement of black-marketeering. His psychopathic gang boss, Narcy (Griffith Jones), betrays him when he refuses to deal drugs, and the story becomes a breathtaking tale of revenge.

For cinema fans, especially silent film fans, one of the amazing experiences of watching these films is to get a glimpse of the world of how things were then.  Especially stories that were affecting society at the time.

In July 2012, Kino Lorber released “Devil’s Needle & Other Tales of Vice and Redemption” on Blu-ray.  The Blu-ray (and also DVD) release is a collection of three films from the Library of Congress that were provocative but tackled the social issues that were plaguing America in the 1910’s.

Included are “The Devil’s Needle” (1916) directed by Chester Withey and written by Withey and Roy Somerville. “The Inside of the White Slave Traffic” (1913) directed by Frank Beal and “Children of Eve” (1915) directed by John H. Collins.

The Devil’s Needle

“The Devil’s Needle” is a film that deals with narcotics and one of the earlier films in America that shows how drugs can destroy one’s life.

The film would revolve around an artist named David White (as portrayed by Tully Marshall).  A grumpy artist because he can’t find the right model for his painting.  Despite having the slightly plump Renee (as portrayed by Norma Talmadge, an earlier silent film for the actress) as a stand-in model, it’s not what he needs.  And because she tends to show up whenever she wants, he easily shows his frustration towards her.

Meanwhile, Marguerite Marsh (as portrayed by Wynne Mortimer), the only daughter of William (as portrayed by F.A. Turner) and is dating the wealthy Hugh Gordon (as portrayed by Howard Gaye), have come to visit the artist.  In hopes to purchase a painting.  But they realize that David is in a tight spot with his latest painting, because he can’t find a model.

As he meets with the Mortimer family, to deal with her stress, Renee meets with a drug dealer who supplies her with morphine and when she shoots it up her arm, she is able to continue her day.

As days continue and many models have come and gone, which David has yet to find the right model. One day, he catches Renee shooting morphine up her arm and Renee tells him how morphine would give him more energy and make him feel better.  And so, he gives it a try.

Marguerite comes to visit once again and while watching her from afar, David realizes that Marguerite would make a perfect model for him.  So, he asks her to be his model and sure enough, the two start working together.

But Hugh, looking for his girlfriend, is upset that his girlfriend from such a high status, would lower herself to be a model and wants her to stop.  But she doesn’t want to.

Eventually David and Marguerite start working quite closely together and in the process, they fall in love.

As Hugh talks to Marguerite’s father about proposing to her, it is too late.  David and Marguerite get married immediately to everyone’s surprise.

But as the days go on, David starts to change as he becomes addicted to the morphine and can not live without it.  His wife Marguerite starts to witness his outbursts when he doesn’t have drugs and Rene who only looked at morphine as a recreational drug, sees how David has become addicted and how its ruining his life.

Can someone help David before he kills himself?

The Inside of the White Slave Traffic

The second film “The Inside of the White Slave Traffic” was released in 1913 and it is important to note that this version is the abridged two-reel version.  The raw surviving footage of the film is included as a special feature.

The film worked in cooperation with the US government to show the problems of white slave trafficking in America. And how immigrant women were targeted by American men and had an elaborate system for the time to keep tabs on the women they were exploiting.

Ninita Bristow plays the naive immigrant who goes out on a date with a man named George.   She gets drunk, wakes up to find out that she slept in a man’s home and her family is disgraced that she had given up her virginity.  But to make things right, George intends to show the parents that he wants to marry her, so all is good again.

But when George takes her far away from her family as he goes to find work, he leaves her with a friend, in this case, a procurer (another word for “pimp”, as portrayed by Edwin Carewe).  She then receives a letter later on  from George stating that he doesn’t want to be with her and now, to make money, the immigrant has become a prostitute.

As she wants to make money to escape, what she doesn’t know is that people within the city are tied into the white slave trafficking and no matter where she goes, her procurer will find her.

Can this immigrant escape the confines of her forced labor and watchful eyes of her procurer?

Children of Eve

In 1915, writer and director John H. Collins went on to create a film that was inspired by the tragic and most deadliest industrial disaster in New York City, known as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911.  The film would also show how managers had women and young girls working for them, but yet have them working in unsafe conditions that would surely kill the workers if anything bad had happened in the factory.

The film would begin with a woman named Flossy Wilson (as portrayed by Nellie Grant), who is an actress from “The Follies”.  Flossy stumbles into her room, quite drunk, and catches the attention of her neighbor, Henry Clay Madison (as portrayed by Robert Conness).

Henry is a student and a clerk and tries to have her change her life and in the process of spending time with her, the two end up having a sexual encounter and she gets pregnant.   Henry proposes but she rejects him. Not wanting to destroy Henry’s life, especially when he has a lot going for himself.

We then see Flossy raising her baby but dying.  The child, named Mamie is then raised by another woman and the film fast forwards 17-years-later.

Mamie “Fifty-Fifty” McGuire (as portrayed by Viola Dana) has now grown up and is dating Bennie “The Typ” (as portrayed by Thomas F. Blake”), a man who is often getting into trouble with the law. Meanwhile, Henry Clay Madison has done well for himself and is a capitalist and shrewd businessman who encounters an article about child labor investigations to the factory that he owns.

As Mamie and The Typ try to figure out how to make ends meet and hope to win money at the “Bucket of Blood” dance contest, needing to survive, she steals a vendor’s cart where she is being chased by authorities and runs into a man named Bert.

Bert Madison is the nephew of Henry and is a 25-year-old social worker who wants to help fix Mamie’s life and sure enough, both fall in love with each other.  Henry gives Mamie the bible and gets her involved with helping people who are in need and showing her that her life can be used for good and she has the choice to change her life for the positive.

But as Bert has contracted something that has made him sick, Mamie tries to visit him but Henry catches Mamie (both not knowing that they are father and daughter to each other) trying to visit Bert and tells her to leave Bert alone, as a poor woman like her will only drag his nephew downhill.

Stung by Bert’s words, Mamie decides to change her life and prove that she can be a good person like Bert has thought of her.  So, she takes a job working undercover as a young girl at Henry Madison’s factory.

But what happens when the factory full of child workers including Mamie, wanting to prove her self-worth, catches on fire?

VIDEO:

“The Devil’s Needle”, “The Inside of the White Slave Traffic” and “Children of Eve” are mastered in HD from archival 35mm elements preserved by the Library of Congress.  It’s important for those not familiar with silent films to know that back then, these films were shot in Nitrate and were prone to catching on fire, having damage and it’s part of the reason why over 90% of silent films created at the time did not survive and are considered lost.  While the surviving films were either taken care of and some that were partially damaged, back then, when it came to restoration, some companies scanned the film with specks and damage included.  So, these damages are quite permanent on the original negative.

Kino Lorber is a company that has dedicated themselves to bringing the surviving films to DVD, but knowing that some films are worse than others when it comes to picture quality.  For silent film fans, as long as the film is watchable, then it is worth it.  So, while these three films have been released on Blu-ray, unlike the Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin or Harold Lloyd films that people are used to seeing in better quality, a lot of these films are not in pristine quality.  You will see lines, flickering and white specks but by no means will it affect you’re viewing.

With that being said, all three films are watchable and are in better condition than a lot of silent films I have watched from the 1910’s.

The first film “The Devil’s Needle” is a film that suffers from nitrate damage.  While the majority of the film is watchable, one you reach the final minutes of the film, you will see nitrate damage.  Fortunately, the majority of the film is not damaged but the final minute does show major nitrate damage which makes it hard to see the ending scene.  Granted, it’s not an integral moment but the damage is there.  But the fact is that most Talmadge films are hard to come by and as a fan of Norma and Constance, I’m just grateful that Kino Lorber has released another Norma Talmadge film.

The other two films “The Inside of the White Slave Traffic” and “Children of the Eve” are in good shape.  They are watchable and there is no major nitrate damage.   Bu it’s important to note that “The Inside of the White Slave Traffic” is abridged and the bad portions were removed and is featured as a 19-minute special feature.

AUDIO & INTERTITLES:

“The Devil’s Needle” and “Children of Eve” feature music by Rodney Sauer and “The Inside of the White Slave Traffic” by features music by Ben Model.  The music is presented in LPCM Monaural 2.0.  The music is crystal clear via lossless and I give credit to Ben Model for his work on “The Inside of the White Slave Traffic” because the film was edited to show only the clearer versions of the film and thus, he had the challenge of creating music for a film with a story that changes quite a bit.  But both Sauer and Model did a fantastic job with the musical score.

Intertitles were easy to read.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“The Devil’s Needle & Other Tales of Vice and Redemption” comes with a slipcase and the following special features:

  • Unedited Out-take from “Children of Eve” – (8:41) An out-take of the fire in the factory scene.  No audio is present for this feature.
  • Raw Surviving Footage from “The Inside of the White Slave Traffic” – (19:41) A comparison using another raw surviving footage of the film in 24 frames.

EXTRAS

“The Devil’s Needle & Other Tales of Vice and Redemption” comes with a four-page “Film Notes” by Richard Koszarski (Professor of English and Cinema Studies at Rutgers University” on the three films presented.

As a silent film fan, “The Devil’s Needle & Other Tales of Vice and Redemption” is a Blu-ray release that you can’t help but be excited for.

In this day and age, it’s rare to find silent films that are released on DVD, let alone on Blu-ray that is not fixated on a major silent film star.  But for a Blu-ray release that revolves around the social issues such as drug addiction, prostitution or terrible corporate practices of the 1910’s, I found this release to be fantastic and a surprise Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber.

First, let’s discuss “The Devil’s Needle”.  As a Talmadge fan, any Norma or Constance Talmadge release on DVD or Blu-ray is a blessing!  They are hard to find, many films are lost and with “The Devil’s Needle”, we have a chance to see a younger Norma Talmadge of 1916, months shy of becoming the wife of Broadway and film producer Joseph M. Schenk and forming the Norma Talmadge Film Corporation a year later.

And what we have with “The Devil’s Needle” is a film featuring Norma Talmadge as a drug user, something I don’t see the film producer Joseph M. Schenk having his young wife from 1916 on (by 1917, Talmadge would become one of America’s more popular drama actresses).

But this is a different Norma Talmadge, a little plumper than thinner version we would see of her in the 1920’s.  While Tully Marshall and Norma Talmadge were the headlining stars of this film, one can’t help but be attracted to the performance and looks of actress Marguerite Marsh.  And because Norma’s character of Rene is the drug user, Tully Marshall’s David White is an artist who is introduced to morphine by Rene, the purist character in the entire film is Marguerite’s Wynne Mortimer.

You can’t help but feel bad for Wynne because she is the pure young woman who is drawn into the world of darkness thanks to David and there is also a side-story that involves a group of guys who fear that Wynne is a spy.  But the story is fascinating for a silent film fan who are curious of how drug use was featured in a film in the 1910’s and to see that there is a moral message that morphine addiction can be deadly.

“The Children of Eve” is another fascinating story and a tragedy that I’m sure, shocked many people watching it back 1915.  Especially with the many deaths of children after New York’s most deadliest fire ala the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911.

Filmmaker and writer John Collins was able to craft a story to shock viewers of child labor and poor working conditions and while many factory workers chose to make money than care for their employee’s needs, the timing of this film was great.  And as this is the first film on Blu-ray or DVD featuring the work of John Collins, it is unfortunate that Collins would die at the age of 26 due to the 1918 influenza epidemic.

But what best to grab the attention of the viewer by not giving the happily ever after.  As a viewer, you are drawn by the performance of Viola Dana as she dances, flirts and has a energetic aura and later to see it sap away when she falls in love with a good man, but being poor and told by the wealthy money-obsessed Henry Madison (who she doesn’t know is her father and vice versa), she chooses to redeem herself by choosing to work undercover for an agency to expose the unsafe practices at the Madison Cannery.  Unfortunately, what happens when this factory catches on fire.  There is no act of heroism, there is no story to show that all things end happily.  The children and women who died at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 did not have a happy ending, nor should the children and young woman of the Madison Cannery.

The message was bold and whether or not it got through to businesses is unknown, but at least filmmaker John Collins used his film as a way to get the message out and to me, that is quite noble.

And last, we have the 1913 film, “The Inside of the White Slave Traffic”.  Sex Trafficking is still as controversial today as it was back then.  While seen as a problem of other countries, back in the 1910’s, with the pouring of immigrants to America, many could not find work and with women seen as beneath men, they couldn’t hold great jobs.  So, many were forced or got caught up in prostitution.

The message of this film was very clear, considering we are first informed that Frank Beal along with federal investigator Samuel H. London had wanted to get the message through about the problems of sex trafficking and the lingo used by the network and how a lot of these women could not escape.  These were based on real experiences and many immigrant women were tricked into fake marriages and were then left with pimps, far from their own families for safety and help and had to survive by using their bodies for profit.

As for the Blu-ray release of “The Devil’s Needle & Other Tales of Vice and Redemption”, as mentioned with video quality, you’re not going to get pristine video but for those who follow silent films, they know they are getting three films that look very good considering their age but also three films that no one would expect for release on Blu-ray.   Sure, “The Devil’s Needle” suffers from damage towards the final minute of the film but all three films are good considering their age (and I have seen worse for silent films made in 1910-1930).     And you also get two special features (which I also wasn’t expecting) included with this Blu-ray release

Overall, “The Devil’s Needle & Other Tales of Vice and Redemption” is a wonderful collection of films tackling the social problems of the 1910’s.  You just don’t see releases like this on Blu-ray or DVD and as a silent film fan, not only was I surprised but excited because we get to see a part of American history that many people may not be familiar with.  From drug use, prostitution and shady corporate practices of that era in time, to see these three films released together is fantastic!

“The Devil’s Needle & Other Tales of Vice and Redemption” is a must-see, must-own Blu-ray release for silent film fans and is highly recommended!

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